The FOTA Breakthrough: The Benefits of Firmware Over the Air

FOTA, or “Firmware update Over the Air,” is the kind of technology that completely changes the ground game for field operations managers … by light years. Simply put, FOTA allows the processor code to be changed on a device that is deployed in the field, literally, over the air – without someone having to go to each device and update them individually.

Today’s carriers require that modules, modems, and end-devices are enabled to update firmware on the cellular components. As a result, customers must write their application code to accommodate this type of updating. Cellular modules all support an AT command that automatically downloads and updates the firmware on these devices.

In the not-so-distant past, if you needed to update the system code, you would have to bring a person to the device. If your devices are FOTA-ready, this once-arduous task simply becomes plugging in an SD card, USB stick or PCMCIA card, and then initiating a button. The once man-hours heavy, opportunity-cost-stressing black hole – one rife with inherent inefficiency is no more.

As They Say, “Wait. There’s more …”

In the past, when a device(s) went missing, you had to arrange time for actual human beings – typically in roles already tasked with other jobs (i.e., hospital nursing staff employees), to lead the devices search committee. These were valuable employee hours with no real guarantee of success. Not only do the devices come with a replacement cost, but these searches also often require one person for each device and the time that it takes to update.

A Game Changer in the Cloud

When FOTA is deployed, all devices appear in some form of cloud service – therefore, all devices are in one place with identical firmware. If you have new data, you can choose to push it to just one, or every single device you have in the field – directly from the cloud.

New data codes can be downloaded straight from Wi-Fi, cellular or even ethernet if it/they are plugged in. Just deliver a new image for the device, reboot, then presto, the device(s) runs on the new image. It will even report to the cloud service, “I received the new image, I am now running on version .002.” And unlike previous, pre-FOTA deployments, if a device or two does not report back, their location can still be quickly identified and quickly deactivated, remotely.

Upgrades

Tesla has become famous for adding features. What many people do not know is that every Tesla is set up on the production line, for the self-driving/automated driver package. Yes, it’s just a firmware update (roughly a $10,000 one, that just requires the push of a button – value judgements, notwithstanding).

So beyond providing tremendous relief for field managers and operators, having FOTA embedded with your products creates innovative opportunities for revenue generation, and updates on selective and new feature delivery. Never has any technology been better aligned for the old, “For only $5 more …”

The API Scene

Think about this for a moment. Google just announced they were shutting down their FOTA API in one year.

This shutdown, in many cases, has far more extensive repercussions than just simply needing to update one’s cellular module firmware. In fact, it requires the application code to change as well, which the customer may not have considered pre-purchase. As a result, many will be forced to make the change on their currently deployed products – leading to hundreds of thousands of devices that will need to be recalled or programmed (one by one) in the field.

For the time being though, virtually all services currently offer an IOT design face. Google has one (for now). Amazon Azure has one. IOT hub. Just last week, Google announced they are just going to turn theirs off in a year. And that unforeseen announcement has created quite the stir.

Maybe to Google, their volume does not justify the means, but from a manufacturer’s perspective, their organization’s entire “fleet of devices” could become obsolete.

That is another area where Airgain can assist. Airgain serves as a trusted advisor when it comes to deploying large numbers of IoT devices. We direct engineering teams how to properly implement FOTA so that when Google or another service EOL’s one of their critical features, your devices in the field can be remotely updated to seamlessly respond.

The State of Cellular & FOTA

In the cellular world, all modules must be “End-Device Carrier Certified” meaning, the module maker must deploy fully addressed units. These come equipped with a single command that automatically downloads new carrier data. This is a hard requirement included in every module of Airgain’s integrated cellular equipment.

Insight on Application Processor & FOTA

The application processor business works differently. In this circumstance, the customer must take care of this on their end of product development. However, Airgain can and does offer trusted advice, guiding customers on what they need to do. The future looks bright, however, with developmental-stage FOTA software that could be integrated on the manufacturing side as well, looking increasingly as though it could just be a year or two out.

FOTA Takeaways 

1. FOTA is invaluable for maintaining the system. Design engineers implement, and then move on. So, the power of FOTA resonates most with operations people – those who toe the line, on the job, who need to reprogram, fix bugs, introduce new features.

2. Design engineers do have some stake in FOTA too. Most design engineers would never release a product into the market. Why, because there are currently issues in the now, for which there are solutions coming down the pike. FOTA allows them to put their best foot forward, and when the fresh solutions present, they can quickly implement them into their products already operating in the field.

3. Liability – Things always have bugs. With FOTA, gone are the days of expensive device recalls that can paralyze a product and/or its reputation. This versatile ability to identify and mend trouble on-the-fly is an Executive’s dream. A bug presents, simply upload corrective/new firmware on the air. Problem solved.

Should you have any further questions regarding Firmware update Over the Air (FOTA) or there is anything else Airgain might help you with, send us an email to support@airgan.com so we can assist.

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